In phase three of our annual recaps of the just-completed season across the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, we move from relief pitchers to starting pitchers, again beginning with the lowest level of play, the Dominican Summer League.
The starting pitching of the Dominican Summer League Cardinals has traditionally been the brightest spot for the rookie-level club, and though the offense emerged in 2015, the strength of the starters again shone through.
Overall, the Cards had a team ERA of 3.55, 15th in the 38-team league. Tutored by first-year pitching coach Giovanni Carrara, the staff struggled to throw the ball past their opponents with regularity as their strikeout total of 513 was 24th. The pitchers were relatively stingy with free passes, logging the 16th fewest walks at 258, which aided their showing in baserunners allowed with a WHIP of 1.39, 19th in the league, smack in the middle.
These numbers were brought down by a young and inexperienced bullpen that often struggled. In fact, nine of the team’s 13 relievers had ERAs over 5.50.
On the other hand, the starters were dominant. Five carried a majority of the workload, with ERAs that ranged from 2.16 to 3.66. Sounds a bit like St. Louis, doesn’t it?
In addition, two other starters were promoted to the Gulf Coast League early on. Our 2014 DSL Starting Pitcher of the Year David Oca posted a 0.90 ERA in four early-season 2015 starts, followed by Estarlin Arias, who logged a 1.98 ERA before his promotion.
A third starter, Ronald Medrano, also moved to the GCL in-season, but because he threw the majority of his 2015 innings in the DSL, he is considered among the starters here, unlike Oca and Arias.
Cardinals director of international operations Moises Rodriguez likes what his staff accomplished this summer.
“One thing that was impressive and that we liked is that our starters were consistent,” he said. “We had three guys that threw over 70 innings. Another pitcher, Junior Gonzalez, threw 66 innings. If you look at DSL workloads, those are pretty high. Not in a bad way. It just shows that they took the ball. They did not miss any starts. They were kept healthy. We obviously had some efficient innings to get up to that 75 point in the DSL season.
In reality, a case could be made for any of these pitchers, all five of whom are right-handers aged 18 (except for Medrano at 19).
Gonzalez and Oneiver Diaz returned from the 2014 DSL rotation. Medrano started in 2013, but missed all of last season due to an elbow injury. Juan Alvarez and Franyel Casadilla pitched from the bullpen the prior summer, with the latter having been our 2014 Reliever of the Year.
Among the five contenders, let’s look at strikeouts, walks and baserunners allowed, with WHIP, walks and hits per innings pitched, as the surrogate for the latter.
As you can see from this view, the choice is an easy one. Casadilla led the rotation in ERA and WHIP, posted the best strikeout rate and lowest walk rate. In other words, it was a clean sweep.
Rodriguez filled in the details on our winner.
“Casadilla is a fun story,” he said. “The background with him is that we scouted him in Venezuela. He was a kid that had good size, good action, good arm delivery. Stuff-wise, you had to dream and project a little bit. Throwing (just) 85 or 86 (mph) but always throwing a lot of strikes.
“We just felt that with the way his arm worked and with his physical projection that eventually he could turn into somebody interesting. He really turned the corner quick this year. Threw a lot of strikes. 11 walks in about 80 innings and he really got after it - aggressive. He needs to improve his secondaries a little bit but he’s got a workable breaking ball and changeup that he uses. His stuff is now in the low 90’s, up to 93.
“We will challenge him next year and see what he can do here in the GCL,” Rodriguez concluded.
Congratulations to Franyel Casadilla, The Cardinal Nation Dominican Summer League Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2015.
Link to master article with all 2015 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selection of the DSL Cardinals Player of the Year.
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